Murphy and DeSanto developed the project in 2003, and DeSanto wrote a treatment. Steven Spielberg came on board the following year, hiring Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman to write the screenplay. The U.S. Armed Forces and General Motors (GM) loaned vehicles and aircraft during filming, which saved money for the production and added realism to the battle scenes. Hasbro's promotional campaign for the film included deals with various companies; advertising included a viral marketing campaign, coordinated releases of prequel comic books, toys, and books, as well as product placement deals with companies such as GM, Burger King, and eBay.
Several thousand years ago, the planet Cybertron was consumed by a civil war between the two Transformer factions, the Autobots led by Optimus Prime and the Decepticons led by Megatron. Optimus jettisoned the AllSpark, a mystical artifact that brings life to the planet, into space, but Megatron pursued it. Megatron crashed in the Arctic Circle and froze, and was discovered in 1895 by explorer Archibald Witwicky. Witwicky inadvertently activated Megatron’s navigational system, which etched the AllSpark’s coordinates into his glasses. The glasses end up in the possession of his great-great-grandson Sam Witwicky. In the present, Sam buys his first car, a rusting Chevrolet Camaro, but discovers it has a life of its own.
In modern Qatar, Blackout attacks and destroys a United States military base in a failed attempt to hack the military network to find information on Megatron and the AllSpark. A team of Army Rangers led by Captain William Lennox escape across the desert, pursued by Blackout’s drone Scorponok. They fight Scorponok off, aided by aerial reinforcements, and travel home with Scorponok’s stinger, discovering sabot rounds damaged the armor. At the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense John Keller leads the investigation into the attack. Sound analyst Maggie Madsen catches another Decepticon, Frenzy, hacking into the network while onboard Air Force One. While the hack is thwarted, Frenzy downloads files on Archibald’s glasses, tracking down Sam with Barricade, disguised as a police car.
Sam and his high school crush Mikaela Banes are rescued by the Camaro who turns out to be Autobot scout Bumblebee, but he is mute and has to communicate through his car radio. Previously sending a beacon to his fellow Autobots, Bumblebee takes Sam and Mikaela to meet the new arrivals – Optimus, Jazz, Ironhide, and Ratchet. Optimus explains the details of their situation, revealing if Megatron gained the AllSpark he would transform Earth’s machinery into a new army and exterminate mankind. Sam, Mikaela, and the Autobots travel to Sam’s house to retrieve the glasses, but the teenagers are captured by agents of Sector Seven, a top secret government branch led by Seymour Simmons. The Autobots stop the agents, but they call for backup, who take Sam, Mikaela, and Bumblebee into custody, while Optimus obtains the glasses.
The respective groups connected to the Transformers are gathered together at Hoover Dam by Sector Seven’s director Tom Banachek. Inside, the group discover the frozen Megatron and the AllSpark, but Frenzy, who smuggled away in Mikaela’s bag, summons the other Decepticons to attack. Bumblebee is released to protect the AllSpark, shrinking it down to a handheld size so it can be transported to safety. Megatron escapes the dam after thawing out. A lengthy battle occurs in Mission City, with most of the Decepticons being killed, but Megatron murders Jazz. He prevents Sam’s attempted escape with the AllSpark, and begins to fight Optimus. After a long brawl Megatron seems to get the upper hand. Optimus then tells Sam to push the cube into his chest in order to ensure their mutual destruction, but Sam rams it into Megatron's chest instead, extinguishing his spark. Starscream and Barricade are the only Decepticons to survive the battle and escape.
Optimus salvages a shard of the AllSpark from Megatron’s body. The United States government shuts down Sector Seven, disposing of the dead Decepticons in the Laurentian Abyss. Sam and Mikaela then start a relationship while the Autobots secretly hide out on Earth, Optimus sends a transmission into space inviting any surviving Autobots to join them.
A brief mid-credits scene shows Starscream escaping into space to rally other Decepticons and summon them to Earth.Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots who transforms into a blue and red 1994 Peterbilt 379 semi-trailer truck. Peter Cullen had previously voiced Optimus Prime in the original 1980s cartoon and was chosen to reprise his role, which was warmly welcomed by audiences and considered one of the film's best aspects.
Mark Ryan as Bumblebee, the Autobot scout and Sam's new guardian who transforms into a yellow and black 2006 Chevrolet Camaro.
Darius McCrary as Jazz, Optimus's second-in-command who transforms into a silver 2006 Pontiac Solstice.
Robert Foxworth as Ratchet, the Autobot medic who transforms into a yellow 2004 search and rescue Hummer H2 ambulance.
Jess Harnell as
Ironhide, the Autobot weapons expert who transforms into a black 2005 GMC Topkick C4500.
Barricade, the Decepticon scout and interrogator who transforms into a black Saleen S281 police car.
Hugo Weaving as Megatron, the leader of the Decepticons who transforms into a silver Cybertronian jet. Originally Frank Welker (voice of Megatron in the original series) was considered but according to DVD commentary, Bay thought his voice didn't fit, so Weaving was chosen instead.
Jim Wood as Bonecrusher, the Decepticon mine sweeper who transforms into a Buffalo H Mine-Protected vehicle.
Reno Wilson as Frenzy, the Decepticon hacker and Barricade's minion, who transforms into a PGX Boombox, and later a Nokia 8800.
Charlie Adler as Starscream, Megatron's second-in-command who transforms into a Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor. Adler had previously voiced several characters in the original series, most noticeably Silverbolt.
Blackout, Megatron's third-in-command who transforms into a MH-53J Pave Low III.
Brawl, the Decepticon demolition specialist who transforms into a dark green M1 Abrams.
Scorponok, a scorpion-like Decepticon and Blackout's minion.
Don Murphy was planning a G.I. Joe film adaptation, but when the United States launched the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Hasbro suggested adapting the Transformers franchise instead. Tom DeSanto joined Murphy because he was a fan of the series. They met with comic book writer Simon Furman, and cited the Generation 1 cartoon and comics as their main influence. They made the Creation Matrix their plot device, though Murphy had it renamed because of the film series The Matrix. DeSanto chose to write the treatment from a human point of view to engage the audience, while Murphy wanted it to have a realistic tone, reminiscent of a disaster film. The treatment featured the Autobots Optimus Prime, Ironhide, Jazz, Prowl, Arcee, Ratchet, Wheeljack, and Bumblebee, and the Decepticons Megatron, Starscream, Soundwave, Ravage, Laserbeak, Rumble, Skywarp and Shockwave.
Steven Spielberg, a fan of the comics and toys, signed on as executive producer in 2004. John Rogers wrote the first draft, which pitted four Autobots against four Decepticons, and featured the Ark spaceship. Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, fans of the cartoon, were hired to rewrite the script in February 2005. Spielberg suggested that "a boy and his car" should be the focus. This appealed to Orci and Kurtzman because it conveyed themes of adulthood and responsibility, "the things that a car represents in the United States". The characters of Sam and Mikaela were the sole point of view given in Orci and Kurtzman's first draft. The Transformers had no dialogue, as the producers feared talking robots would look ridiculous. The writers felt that even if it would look silly, not having the robots speak would betray the fanbase. The first draft also had a battle scene in the Grand Canyon. Spielberg read each of Orci and Kurtzman's drafts and gave notes for improvement. The writers remained involved throughout production, adding additional dialogue for the robots during the sound mixing (although none of this was kept in the final film, which ran fifteen minutes shorter than the initial edit). Furman's The Ultimate Guide, published by Dorling Kindersley, remained as a resource to the writers throughout production. Prime Directive was used as a fake working title. This was also the name of Dreamwave Productions' first Transformers comic book.
Michael Bay was asked to direct by Spielberg on July 30, 2005, but he dismissed the film as a "stupid toy movie". Nonetheless, he wanted to work with Spielberg, and gained a new respect for the concept upon visiting Hasbro. Bay considered the first draft "too kiddie", so he increased the military's role in the story. The writers sought inspiration from G.I. Joe for the soldier characters, being careful not to mix the brands. Bay based Lennox' struggle to get to the Pentagon phoneline while struggling with an unhelpful operator from a real account he was given by a soldier when working on another film.
Orci and Kurtzman experimented with numerous robots from the franchise, ultimately selecting the characters most popular among the filmmakers to form the final cast. Bay acknowledged that most of the Decepticons were selected before their names or roles were developed, as Hasbro had to start designing the toys. Some of their names were changed because Bay was upset that they had been leaked. Optimus, Megatron, Bumblebee and Starscream were the only characters present in each version of the script. Arcee was a female Transformer introduced by Orci and Kurtzman, but she was cut because they found it difficult to explain robotic gender; Bay also disliked her motorcycle form, which he found too small. An early idea to have the Decepticons simultaneously strike multiple places around the world was also dropped.
The filmmakers created the size of each robot with the size of their vehicle mode in mind, supporting the Transformer's rationale for their choice of disguise on Earth. The concept of traveling protoforms was developed by Roberto Orci when he wondered why "aliens who moonlight as vehicles need other vehicles to travel". This reflected a desire to move to a more alien look, away from the "blocky" Generation 1 Transformers. Another major influence in the designs was samurai armor, returning full-circle to the Japanese origins of the toy line. The robots also had to look alien, or else they would have resembled other cinematic robots made in the image of man.
A product placement deal with General Motors supplied alternate forms for most of the Autobots, which saved $3 million for the production. GM also provided nearly two hundred cars, destined for destruction in the climactic battle scene. The U.S. Armed Forces provided significant support, enhancing the film's realism: the film features F-22s, F-117s, and V-22 Ospreys, the first time these aircraft were used for a film; soldiers served as extras, and authentic uniforms were provided for the actors. A-10 Thunderbolt IIs and Lockheed AC-130s also appear. Captain Christian Hodge joked that he had to explain to his superiors that the filmmakers wanted to portray most of their aircraft as evil Decepticons: however, he remarked "people love bad guys".
To save money for the production, Bay reduced his usual fee by 30%. He planned an 83-day shooting schedule, maintaining the required pace by doing more camera set-ups per day than usual. Bay chose to shoot the film in the United States instead of Australia or Canada, allowing him to work with a crew he was familiar with, and who understood his work ethic. A pre-shoot took place on April 19, 2006 and principal photography began three days later at Holloman Air Force Base, which stood in for Qatar. To film the Scorponok sequence at White Sands Missile Range, a sweep was performed to remove unexploded ordnance before building of a village set could begin; ironically, the village would be blown up. The scene was broken down for the Air battle managers flying aboard the AWACS aircraft, who improvised dialogue as if it were an actual battle.
The company also shot at Hoover Dam and at the Pentagon, the first time since the September 11 attacks that film crews had been allowed at these locations. The external Hoover Dam scenes were shot before tourists arrived daily at 10:00 a.m., with shooting moving inside for the remainder of the day. Production in California was based at Hughes Aircraft at Playa Vista, where the hangar in which Megatron is imprisoned was built. Six weekends were spent in Los Angeles, California shooting the climactic battle, with some elements being shot on the Universal Studios backlot and at Detroit's Michigan Central Station. The crew was allowed to shoot at Griffith Observatory, which was still closed for renovations begun in 2002. Filming wrapped on October 4, 2006.
The film has been found to re-use footage from Bay's previous film Pearl Harbor (2001).
Spielberg encouraged Bay to restrict computer-generated imagery to the robots and background elements in the action sequences. Stunts such as Bonecrusher smashing through a bus were done practically, while cameras were placed into the midst of car crashes and explosions to make it look more exciting. Work on the animatics began in April 2005. Bay indicated that three quarters of the film's effects were made by Industrial Light & Magic, while Digital Domain made the rest, including the Arctic discovery of Megatron; Frenzy's severed head; a vending machine mutated by the Allspark, and the Autobots' protoforms. Many of the animators were big Transformers fans and were given free rein to experiment: a scene where Jazz attacks Brawl is a reference to a scene in The Transformers: The Movie where Kup jumps on Blitzwing.
ILM created computer-generated transformations during six months in 2005, looking at every inch of the car models. Initially the transformations were made to follow the laws of physics, but it did not look exciting enough and was changed to be more fluid. Bay rejected a liquid metal surface for the characters' faces, instead going for a "Rubik's Cube" style of modeling. He wanted numerous mechanical pieces visible so the robots would look more interesting, realistic, dynamic and quick, rather than like lumbering beasts. One such decision was to have the wheels stay on the ground for as long as possible, allowing the robots to cruise around as they changed. Bay instructed the animators to observe footage of two martial artists and numerous martial arts films to make the fights look graceful.
Due to the intricate designs of the Transformers, even the simplest motion of turning a wrist needs 17 visible parts; each of Ironhide's guns are made of ten thousand parts. Bumblebee uses a piece below his face-plate as an eyebrow, pieces in his cheeks swivel to resemble a smile, and all the characters' eyes are designed to dilate and brighten. According to Bay, "The visual effects were so complex it took a staggering 38 hours for ILM to render just one frame of movement"; that meant ILM had to increase their processing facilities. Each rendered piece had to look like real metal, shiny or dull. This was difficult to model because the aged and scarred robots had to transform from clean cars. Close-up shots of the robots were sped up to look "cool", but in wide shots the animation was slowed down to convincingly illustrate a sense of weight. Photographs were taken of each set. These were used as a reference for the lighting environment, which was reproduced within a computer, so the robots would look like they were convincingly moving there. Bay, who has directed numerous car commercials, understood ray tracing was the key to making the robots look real; the CG models would look realistic based on how much of the environment was reflecting on their bodies. Numerous simulations were programmed into the robots, so the animators could focus on animating the particular areas needed for a convincing performance.
Composer Steve Jablonsky, who collaborated with Bay on The Island, scored music for the trailers before work began on the film itself. Recording took place in April 2007, at the Sony Scoring Stage in Culver City, California. The score, including the teaser music, uses six major themes across ninety minutes of music. The Autobots have three themes, one named "Optimus" to represent the wisdom and compassion of the Autobot leader, and another played during their arrival on Earth. The Decepticons have a chanted theme which relies on electronics, unlike most of the score. The AllSpark also has its own theme. Hans Zimmer, Jablonsky's mentor, also helped to compose the score.
Hasbro's toy line for the film was created over two months in late 2005 and early 2006, in heavy collaboration with the filmmakers. Protoform Optimus Prime and Starscream were released in the United States on May 1, 2007, and the first wave of figures was released on June 2. The line featured characters not in the film, including Arcee. A second wave, titled "AllSpark Power", was set for release late 2007, which consisted of repaints and robotic versions of ordinary vehicles in the film. The toys feature "Automorph Technology", where moving parts of the toy allow other parts to shift automatically. Merchandise for the film earned Hasbro $480 million in 2007.
Deals were made with 200 companies to promote the film in 70 countries. Michael Bay directed tie-in commercials for General Motors, Panasonic, Burger King and PepsiCo, while props – including the Camaro used for Bumblebee and the AllSpark – were put up for charity sale on eBay. A viral marketing alternate reality game was employed through the Sector 7 website, which presented the film and all previous Transformers toys and media as part of a cover-up operation called "Hungry Dragon," perpetrated by a "real life" Sector 7 to hide the existence of genuine Transformers. The site featured several videos presenting "evidence" of Transformers on Earth, including a cameo from the original Bumblebee.
Transformers had its worldwide premiere at N Seoul Tower on June 10, 2007. The film's June 27 premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival used a live digital satellite feed to project the film on to a screen. A premiere took place at Rhode Island on June 28, which was a freely available event giving attendees the opportunity to buy tickets for $75 to benefit four charities: the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, the Autism Project of Rhode Island, Adoption Rhode Island, and Hasbro Children's Hospital. The film was released in IMAX on September 21, 2007, with additional footage that had not been included in the general theatrical release.
Transformers fans were initially divided over the film due to the radical redesigns of many characters, although the casting of Peter Cullen was warmly received. Transformers comic book writer Simon Furman and Beast Wars script consultant Benson Yee both considered the film to be spectacular fun, although Furman also argued that there were too many human storylines. Yee felt that being the first in a series, the film had to establish much of the fictional universe and therefore did not have time to focus on the Decepticons. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.
The film created a greater awareness of the franchise and drew in many new fans. Transformers' box office success led to the active development of films based on Voltron and Robotech, as well as a Knight Rider remake. When filming the sequel, Bay was told by soldiers the film helped their children understand what their work was like, and that many had christened their Buffalos – the vehicle used for Bonecrusher – after various Transformer characters.
After the film's 2009 sequel was titled Revenge of the Fallen, screenwriter Orci was asked if this film would be retitled, just as Star Wars was titled Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope when re-released. He doubted the possibility, but said if it was retitled, he would call it Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye.
Review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film an approval rating of 57% based on 220 reviews, with an average rating of 5.8/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "While believable characters are hard to come by in Transformers, the effects are staggering and the action is exhilarating." On Metacritic, the film has an average score of 61 out of 100, based on 35 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
IGN's Todd Gilchrist called it Bay's best film, and "one of the few instances where it's OK to enjoy something for being smart and dumb at the same time, mostly because it's undeniably also a whole lot of fun". The Advertiser's Sean Fewster found the visual effects so seamless that "you may come to believe the studio somehow engineered artificial intelligence". The Denver Post's Lisa Kennedy praised the depiction of the robots as having "a believably rendered scale and intimacy", and ABC presenter Margaret Pomeranz was surprised "that a complete newcomer to the Transformers phenomenon like myself became involved in the fate of these mega-machines". Ain't It Cool News's Drew McWeeny felt most of the cast grounded the story, and that "it has a real sense of wonder, one of the things that's missing from so much of the big CGI lightshows released these days". Author Peter David found it ludicrous fun, and said that "[Bay] manages to hold on to his audience's suspension of disbelief long enough for us to segue into some truly spectacular battle scenes". Roger Ebert gave the film a positive review, giving it 3 stars out of a possible 4, writing: "It's goofy fun with a lot of stuff that blows up real good, and it has the grace not only to realize how preposterous it is, but to make that into an asset."
Despite the praise for the visual effects, there was division over the human storylines. The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt liked "how a teen plotline gets tied in to the end of the world", while Empire's Ian Nathan praised Shia LaBeouf as "a smart, natural comedian, [who] levels the bluntness of this toy story with an ironic bluster". Ain't It Cool News founder Harry Knowles felt Bay's style conflicted with Spielberg's, arguing the military story only served as a distraction from Sam. James Berardinelli hated the film as he did not connect with the characters in-between the action, which he found tedious. Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan found the humans "oddly lifeless, doing little besides marking time until those big toys fill the screen", while ComingSoon.net's Joshua Starnes felt the Transformers were "completely believable, right up to the moment they open their mouths to talk, when they revert to bad cartoon characters". Daily Herald's Matt Arado was annoyed that "the Transformers [are] little more than supporting players", and felt the middle act was sluggish. CNN's Tom Charity questioned the idea of a film based on a toy, and felt it would "buzz its youthful demographic [...] but leave the rest of us wondering if Hollywood could possibly aim lower".
Worldwide, the film was the highest-grossing non-sequel film in 2007. It grossed $709.7 million, making it Bay's fourth highest-grossing film to date, with the three sequels surpassing it. It was also the fifth highest-grossing film of 2007 worldwide, behind Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Spider-Man 3 and Shrek the Third. The film was released in 10 international markets on June 28, 2007, including Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and the Philippines. Transformers made $29.5 million in its first weekend, topping the box office in 10 countries. It grossed $5.2 million in Malaysia, becoming the most successful film in the country's history. Transformers opened in China on July 11 and became the second highest-grossing foreign film in the country (behind Titanic), making $37.3 million. Its opening there set a record for a foreign language film, making $3 million. The film was officially released in the United Kingdom on July 27, making £8.7 million, and helped contribute to the biggest attendance record ever for that weekend. It was second at the UK box office, behind The Simpsons Movie. In South Korea, Transformers recorded the largest audience for a foreign film in 2007 and the highest foreign revenue of the movie.
In North America, the film had the highest per-screen and per-theater gross in 2007. It was released on July 3, 2007 with 8 p.m. preview screenings on July 2. The United States previews earned $8.8 million and in its first day of general release, it grossed $27.8 million, a record for Tuesday box-office gross until it was broken by The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012. It did, however, break Spider-Man 2's record for the biggest July 4 gross, making $29 million. Transformers opened in over 4,050 theaters in North America and grossed $70.5 million in its first weekend, amounting to a $155.4 million opening week, giving it the record for the biggest opening week for a non-sequel. The opening's gross in the United States was 50% more than what Paramount Pictures had expected. One executive attributed it to word of mouth that explained to parents that "it [was] OK to take the kids". A CinemaScore poll indicated the film was most popular with children and parents, including older women, and attracted many African American and Latino viewers. Transformers ended its theatrical run in the United States and Canada with a gross of $319.2 million, making it the third highest-grossing film of 2007 in these regions behind Spider-Man 3 and Shrek the Third. The film sold an estimated 46,402,100 tickets in North America.
Before its release, Transformers was voted "Best Summer Movie You Haven't Seen Yet" at the 2007 MTV Movie Awards, and at the 2008 MTV Movie Awards, it was voted "best movie". It was nominated for three Academy Awards, in the fields of Achievement in Sound Editing, Achievement in Sound Mixing (Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell and Peter J. Devlin), and Achievement in Visual Effects (Scott Benza, Russell Earl, Scott Farrar and John Knoll), but lost to The Bourne Ultimatum and The Golden Compass, respectively. It received a 2008 Kids' Choice Award nomination for Favorite Movie, but lost to Alvin and the Chipmunks. The film received a Jury Merit Award for Best Special Effects in the 2007 Kuala Lumpur International Film Festival. Visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar was honored at the Hollywood Film Festival and Hollywood Awards Gala Ceremony on October 22, 2007 for his work on the film.
In 2008, the Visual Effects Society awarded Transformers four awards: for the best visual effects in an "effects driven" film and the "best single visual effects sequence" (the Optimus-Bonecrusher battle). The film's other two awards were for its miniatures and compositing. Broadcast Music Incorporated awarded composer Steve Jablonsky for his score. Entertainment Weekly named Bumblebee as their fourth favorite computer generated character, while The Times listed Optimus Prime's depiction as the thirtieth best film robot, citing his coolness and dangerousness. On the negative side, Jon Voight was nominated for Worst Supporting Actor (also for Bratz: The Movie, September Dawn and National Treasure: Book of Secrets) at the 28th Golden Raspberry Awards.
Transformers was released in Region 1 territories on October 16, 2007, on DVD and the now defunct HD DVD format. The Wal-Mart edition of the DVD included a shortened animated version of the prequel comic book, titled Transformers Beginnings and featuring the voices of Ryan, Cullen, and Dunn, as well as Welker as Megatron. The Target copy was packaged with a transforming Optimus Prime DVD case and a prequel comic book about the Decepticons. The DVD sold 8.3 million copies in its first week, making it the fastest-selling DVD of 2007, in North America, and it sold 190,000 copies on HD DVD, which was the biggest debut on the format. The DVDs sold 13.74 million copies, making the film the most popular DVD title of 2007.
It was released on Blu-ray on September 2, 2008. In the first week, the two-disc edition of the Blu-ray was number one in sales compared to other films on the format. The Blu-ray version accounted for two-thirds of the film's DVD sales that first week, selling the third most in overall DVD sales. On June 16, 2009, Paramount included a sticker on all new Transformers DVDs that contained a code to view exclusive content online from the first film and get a sneak peek at Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. The content includes three exclusive clips from Revenge of the Fallen, behind-the-scenes footage from both films, and never-before-seen deleted scenes from the first film. As of July 2012, in North America, the DVD of the film has sold 16.23 million copies, earning $292,144,274.
The second film, Revenge of the Fallen was released June 24, 2009. The third film, Dark of the Moon was released June 29, 2011. The fourth film, Age of Extinction was released June 27, 2014, and the fifth film titled The Last Knight was released on June 21, 2017. Revenge of the Fallen, Age of Extinction, and The Last Knight received negative critical reviews but were still box office successes.